Thursday, March 15, 2007
I do not know how other scouts who were once under Guy’s charge will take the news of his untimely demise. I do not know the relationship that scouts in general have with their former Scoutmasters; I can only speak to my own experience. While to others Guy was just a Scoutmaster, he was that and more to me – he was a friend. Long after he retired from the position and long after I graduated from high school and left Troop 140, we remained friends. In the list of influential male figures in my life, Guy comes in third, after my Dad and my Uncle Al. In every paper I ever had to write in college or seminary where I had to discuss important people in my life, or where I was called upon to tell of someone who taught me, Guy makes an appearance.
When I first met him, I knew immediately he was a man to be respected and feared. He commanded such an authority with the boys of Troop 140 and bore himself so respectfully, that any 12 year-old boy with any sense about him at all could not fail to notice. I cannot say what he first thought of me, but I suspect it was not anything good. He was a strict disciplinarian and observer of the rules, and I had entered the troop one year early against the rules. All the boys in the Cub Scout Den were a year older than I; I had completed all the requirements for crossing over into Boy Scouts, but fell short on the age requirement. So, with special permission I was allowed to cross over.
I remember our initial Scoutmaster Conference. In it he made me promise that I would be a First Class Scout (meaning that I would achieve and pass through the ranks of Scout, Tenderfoot, and Second Class) within a year. I remember thinking at the time that he was making me do that as some sort of test, to prove my mettle or some such thing. Only later did I learn he made all the boys swear to that. It was just the kind of leader he was. He knew we could do it if we set our minds and bodies to the task and he wanted us to push ourselves. That meeting was the only time he would mention our promise to complete First Class within a year of joining. I don’t think I made it, but I was close.
Sometime before achieving First Class, I was on a camping trip and had some free time. So, being a teenaged boy, I grabbed a hatchet and marched off into the woods. Somehow, a young, live tree ended up being cut down. Later that day, Mr. Thompson asked me to go on a walk with him. This was not unusual, so I went. We meandered through the woods talking and pointing out various parts of the local flora and fauna. At one point he stopped walking and I could not help but notice the stump of the young, live tree I had chopped down. His feet were standing on either side of it, but he did not acknowledge it. We talked some more and I probably began to be nervous. Never mentioning the tree or the stump, he then asked if there was anything else I wanted to talk about before we headed back. I immediately confessed and handed over my Totin’ Chit (the card permitting a Scout to carry and use bladed tools). He tore it up. The usual punishment for misusing the privileges associated with the Totin’ Chit was to have a corner removed, and then, if you had all four corners removed, you had to re-earn the Chit. He simply said that cutting down a live tree counted for four violations. Looking back on it now I realize I learned more that day than just the cost of cutting down a live tree.
To try and say what I learned from Guy would require more pages than I care to discover. But I will say some of the most important ones. Guy had an intense love of the outdoors and camping, and every time we went camping, his actions instilled that love and that respect in me deeper and deeper. I never saw Guy in a situation where he was ready to give up. Even if he didn’t know what to do, he was always trying the next thing. (The one time I did witness him briefly stymied was when I, by my own foolish actions, managed to get a 4-inch by 1/2 -inch wooden splinter buried in my right buttock – but you have to admit, that’s a pretty unusual circumstance.) Respectful would not begin to cover how Guy treated others, especially those he did not like or did not get along with. Rarely did I see him lose his temper with his peers. Sometimes he would yell at us, but invariably we had done something stupid or, more often than not, had disrespected him. He followed the Golden Rule to the letter. Just as when he got upset with us for disrespecting him, so too would he expect us (or, more specifically, his senior patrol leader) to point out to him when he was being disrespectful. I could carry on and fill pages, but I think my point has been made.
Sometime when I was a Star Scout, Guy retired from serving as Scoutmaster. His son had graduated and moved out of the Troop and Guy’s life became personally busy and complicated. Mel Hisey came in his place. I knew Mel from before and knew he would be a great Scoutmaster. And, in fact, he was. Most of the 3 years, six consecutive terms, I served the Troop as Senior Patrol Leader was under Mel’s leadership. But, he was never my Scoutmaster. He was always the Scoutmaster who was swallowed in Guy’s shoes.
When I made Eagle Scout, I asked Guy to present me with the award and to make the presentation speech. In it, he said that oftentimes when boys make Eagle Scout it comes not only as a surprise to themselves, but to their Scoutmasters, parents, relatives, and friends. He went on to say, “From the first day I knew Ryan, I knew this day was coming. Today is not a surprise to me.” Those were some of the nicest words anyone has ever said to me.
A couple of years ago, I caught wind of the fact that Guy had been reinstated as Scoutmaster of 140 for a temporary period of time, until they could find a new one. I was home from seminary for Christmas break and I decided to go to the meeting to surprise him. I put on my Scout shirt, jeans (as the days when I could fit into my old scout pants had long since passed), and the only shoes I brought home with me, my Birkenstocks. When he saw me enter the room, he embraced me vigorously and then quickly told me to go home and put on close-toed shoes - that I should know better. I laughed out loud. Still the strict one. He gave me a hero’s welcome to the Troop and pointed to my name on the Eagle board. At the end of the meeting, in it’s usual place, was what we called the Scoutmaster’s Minute, a time for the Scoutmaster to give instruction or advice or commentary on any topic. He invited me to give the Scoutmaster’s minute, an honor I’ll not soon forget.
We went out for dessert and coffee after that meeting and talked for hours, catching up. It had been several years since we’d seen each other, but we picked right up where we had left off, remembering all the fun times we shared – not just camping, but the hours spent playing WarCraft II and Descent II at his office when we were supposed to be working on the Troop’s newsletter. In the midst of that discussion, he divulged to me that he did not think I was on the right path, being trained for the priesthood. Coming from a very evangelical protestant background, he took serious issue with any hierarchical structure within the church, and felt that I was not walking the path God chose for me. I tried to explain to him my sense of call, but he disagreed. Though he always admonished me, "don't be a stranger," that night was the last time I saw him and I never got the chance to show him what I am doing now. How I wish I had listened and not been a stranger. It is my sincerest hope, against all good theology, that he can see me now and can be proud. That he can see me work with the kids in the youth group and can recognize that the strategies I employ there are his own, that he taught us by example in Troop 140. His leadership has become mine as I raise up the next generation, not in Scouts, but in the Church. I hope he can see that I could not be the kind of leader and example I am to these kids if it were not for him. If I can do for these teens even half of what he did for me when I was a teenager, then I would be doing them a great service.
At the conclusion of every meeting Troop 140 had, we said what we referred to as the Benediction. It was a quasi-prayer and the ritualistic way we ended our meetings. Now, those words are particularly poignant and haunting to me as I reconsider them. When once they spoke to me only of God keeping us safe until the next Monday’s meeting, they now hold a special, second meaning. I will not see Guy next Monday, or ever again in this life, and so the duality of the Benediction is striking:
Ryan, as a person who loves to meet people and get to know them, I am often thankful to God that there are so many wonderful people in the Earth to share with. I know that I can never meet and love them all, so I am also thankful that God has put others in the world to learn their lessons, and maybe to teach them to me secondhand.
When I read obituaries, especially ones like this, of such wonderful people whom I didn't know, I grieve not only for your loss, but for mine. Thanks for sharing a tiny bit of Guy's wisdom and love with me (beyond the wisdom and love you shared with me at Seabury, when I didn't even know where you got it from).
I often wonder how the world will get along without people like this. Well, we've got you. It's a start. And I know you're up to it.
This is a very lovely and thoughtful benediction.
Thank you for sharing this...it is very meaningful, even for me, who never met Guy.
What a beautiful reflection - I'm so sorry for your loss.